How to Edit Yourself: 5 Steps to Better Writing

monkey-looking-in-mirrorSome days, it may feel like the only thing harder than writing an article is revising the article you’ve just written.

We do a lot of writing every day on the Propllr content marketing team, and we do a lot of revision and editing. While we have experienced editors in house, we don’t always have the luxury of sending our work to one of these editors before it goes off into the world (because, you know, deadlines).

To compensate, we’ve learned how to revise and edit our own work.

Revision and editing take skill, time, and practice. Revising and editing your own work takes all of those things, plus a healthy dose of self-control. Here are a few strategies we recommend that we use ourselves every day.

Self-Editing Tip 1: Step Away from the Computer and Take a Break

Even if you don’t have time to actually stop working, you can stop working on a piece. Everyone has a different cadence for their work, but I do my best to outline, draft, and revise on different days of the week (or at least with a couple hours between each stage).

Sometimes you will have to push through from draft to revision. If this is the case and you’re having trouble seeing your work clearly, take a walk. Step outside, if the weather is good. Come back with fresh air in your lungs and fresh eyes. (And a fresh coffee, if you like living dangerously.)

Self-Editing Tip 2: To Start, Reread the Entire Piece

Before you make any changes, reread the entire article from title to conclusion. You may spot typos along the way or awkward language, but the goal of this read-through is to assess the piece at a high level:

  • Does the title match the text?
  • Does the piece stake a claim in the introduction that it supports or develops in the body?
  • Does the argument fall apart or stray? Is it interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention?
  • Do you see room for improvement in the organization of the piece? Go back to the outlining stage and make sure the structure of your argument is sound.
  • Do you see any opportunities to add more evidence, background, or explanation?

I like to flag areas for improvement for myself with a quick note in the comments as I read. This allows me to keep moving forward while highlighting my first impressions.

Self-Editing Tip 3: If You’re About to Embark on a Major Revision, Start a New Doc

In both Google Docs and Microsoft Word, all the changes you make along the way will be captured, which means you can always revert to an earlier version of something.

While we use this feature often, we’ve found that, for any major rewrites, it’s best to work from a fresh document (clearly labeled with a version number). This can both save you time and make it easier to compare versions of sentences and paragraphs side by side.

The other benefit of starting a new draft with a blank doc is that you force yourself to retype. In doing that, you increase the odds that you break away from the language that wasn’t working before.

Self-Editing Tip 4: Refine the Language and Revise for Clarity

Once you’ve cleaned up your argument, revise for clarity.

Look for places where the language can be more concise. This is where you’ll even out the voice and tone of the piece.

Self-Editing Tip 5: Read the Piece Again (Round 3)

There are two tricks we love to help you do a final sweep for grammar, usage, and mechanics errors:

  • Read the whole thing backwards, one sentence at a time. This will help you decontextualize each sentence from its paragraph, making it easier to review for grammar and sense.
  • Read the piece aloud. This is a great way to catch repeated words, phrases, and sentence structures. It’s also an awesome way to make friends in your local coffee shop, if you happen to be working remotely.

Your readers expect perfect work (or at least, lean writing). These are the final precautionary steps you can take to make sure you’re not setting your readers up to mistake great content for bad content.

Trust Your Instincts: Be Your Own Best Editor

While you can always ask someone else to read your piece if you need a gut check, trust your instincts. You did the research, interviewed sources, and took the time to write a well-structured piece of content.

If you’re a content writer, you got your job because you have the technical chops. These tips will help you consistently execute clean, clear writing.